Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Workforce Development – Does Education Really have an Influence?

Textile Heritage

During March’s edition of Greenville Forward’s Momentum series, we discussed this topic in depth and ultimately decided that yes, education has an immeasurably important impact on workforce development.


Greenville’s history is heavily rooted in textile mills. We were once known as the “Textile Capital of the World” and a drive around Greenville will reveal the evidence left behind from our dominance of the industry. During this conversation, participants pointed out that, though rich, the textile culture had an overall negative impact on the importance of higher education as related to success in the workforce. While imparting a strong work ethic, that culture deemed high school degrees the only necessary education required to work in the mills, a lifelong career path.


And though we might live in a culture two generations removed from our textile heritage, the Momentum participants argued that many of the remaining textile families’ mindsets have not changed to match the current economic climate – where a higher education degree is minimally necessary to achieve significant workforce success later in life. One attendee said, “Some of the textile grandfathers still believe you don’t really need education and that your family would view you as ‘uppity’ if you sought one. Some are afraid of success.”


A key theme that arose was that education must not only teach basic tenets of knowledge, but a passion for continued learning, where you learn how to learn and rapidly change from one thing to another so that you can adapt as the job market grows and changes.


An additional topic that came up was the vast need for those with technical abilities and the lack of a qualified workforce. ADEX Machining was brought up several times as an example of a high technology-driven company building specific aerospace equipment for clients like Boeing. How do we direct the education of some to meet this need? Is it even reasonable to do so when the job market landscape might be different in a new way when they complete their education?


The overwhelming understanding that kept coming up was that we must prepare our young people for a variety of careers  — while preparing them to be ready to learn and absorb new skills along the way. We also need strategic partnerships among parents, teachers, college educators, and community leaders. We need to strongly link drug abuse and unemployment and seriously address our dropout rates in Greenville County. And we need to address the culture of our textile heritage – insisting that higher education is a must to achieve success.


So, shall we get started?


After Eye on Education — Our Eyes are Still Open Wide

Last Friday, Greenville Forward and Greenville County Schools partnered to present Eye on Education. To me, it is one of the best programs we are involved with facilitating because it connects civic leaders, community leaders, government servants, and anyone in between with the schools in our community. With minimal commitment (only your time), anyone can visit at least two schools in the school district, hear a speech from our superintendent, and interact with the principals on the ground in our community. It is truly dazzling and an opportunity to understand what is really happening in the schools.

Often, we talk about how frustrating it is to shoulder the weight of South Carolina’s negative education stereotypes when our schools have so much to celebrate. We talk about how we wish comedians wouldn’t disparage our state on the national stage. But the fact is, there are many schools in South Carolina that are struggling — and we acknowledge that there are students struggling in our own community.

Last Friday wasn’t about the struggle. It was about the triumph. Our schools in Greenville County have much to celebrate.

The session began last Friday morning with an address from Superintendent Dr. Penny Fisher. She threw out a few statistics and morsels of information that I found very worthy of sharing. She said that Greenville County no longer has a single school on the bottom priority list. She celebrated the healthy lunch programs. And she said that all schools are moving towards a model of project based learning where students are able to learn why they are learning what they are.

Overall, our participants visited four schools: Cherrydale Elementary, League Academy, AJ Whittenburg Elementary, and Wade Hampton High School. I took some notes that our participants said after the buses returned us back to the Resource Center for follow-up discussion.

– Passionate principals make all the difference.

– Cherrydale is made up of 97% of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch plans. However, they are still focusing on innovative education tools like single gender classes, multiple intelligences styles of teaching, character development, and looping (where teachers travel with students from grade to grade). Cherrydale also has a 25% male staff, which is highly unusual. The students also take college field trips even though they are in elementary school so they will set their sights to going to college now.

– League is a magnet school for communication arts and strives to incorporate creativity in every capacity. There is a camaraderie of support among staff and students.

– “I was impressed by the commitment and dedication of the Cherrydale principal despite challenges of poverty.”

– “The importance of good teachers is still the most important thing.”

– “Community involvement is key to the successes of schools and you can become involved with that process by serving on school improvement councils.”

And when asked to choose one word to describe what they saw at Eye on Education, participants used the following:

“Innovation”   “Leadership”   “Inquiry”  “Community”  “Respect”  “Technology”  “Character”

Eye on Education 2012 certainly was successful in every sense of the word. We intended to open the eyes of legislative leaders and community members to the good work happening in our schools. We wanted to celebrate our principals who work so hard to give students in Greenville the best education possible. And we wanted people to leave surprised, pleasantly and passionately surprised.

Next year, we are hoping to expand the school visits and offer lunch at one of the schools’ healthy lunch cafeterias. If you missed this year’s session, know that you can always do a visit of your own — all you have to do is schedule a tour with the school.

Thank you for following our journey last Friday, whether you attended, read our live tweets, or are now reading this blog. Learning even the smallest facts about our schools in Greenville is important and we are delighted to facilitate this process. We truly believe that creating a community that values learning can happen in Greenville and we were delighted to move towards that goal with this edition of Eye on Education.

Conversation Cafe – How do we Create a Learning Community?

Here at Greenville Forward, we have asked this question several times. Partly because it is one of our six main focus areas, and partly because we are concerned about how Greenville will continue to move forward if we are not valuing learning in our community. How will we have a strong work force pushing us on if we are not educated and committed to continually learning? On Wednesday morning, Greenville Forward used the Conversation Cafe style of forum to address this question at Spill the Beans.

Despite the early morning meeting, the participants came away with some wonderful ideas for making learning an integral part of the fabric of our community. I was delighted to hear some new ideas I had not considered before and was challenged to think about learning beyond how I define it in my own mind.

And per my usual style, here are some notes that captured the response of the participants:

What communities beyond Seattle are we aware of that are thinking about this question and how are they addressing it? What programs are they using and what is their plan of action to move forward?

What is the motivation for learning and why should we communicate its importance to adults and children?

How do we recruit and attain talent in Greenville? We need to create an atmosphere where people want to be part of what is happening in Greenville.

What are the emerging fields that will really recruit and attain people in Greenville? We need to have a population that fosters learning.

How can you get every part of the community involved with learning? Everyone learns in different ways so there should be different modes of learning.

You need to get into the neighborhoods because people learn best in their own environments, like community centers.

There are many wonderful programs and experiences out there that people just don’t know about. For example, the Warehouse Theatre presents plays with important themes, etc. There is also Learning in Retirement at Furman. Do people know about that program? There are barriers of cost to many of these programs.We need to find enough things that are “free” for people. But there are still challenges of transportation.

How do we bring dialogue to other communities who are not coming here. How many learning opportunities are there downtown? Could we expand them to other communities?  We could engage not just people but also businesses.

If you were raised educated than you naturally encourage learning with your children. But some people do not have that background. At the grocery store, some parents might use it as a learning tool – perhaps the grocery store could be involved with that and provide “learning sheets” for children.

The difference between learning and education – even in the school we can create a learning environment versus an educated environment. The idea of community must start in the home. Education was never meant to be something that stopped at 3:00.

If more establishments like Spill the Beans opened up for events like this, that would be huge.

There is a community here that is glad to not be in school because “I won’t have to learn anymore.” This is not a result of teachers failing but what the community does to “blame” the schools.

How can you make being smart in school equally as cool as being captain of the football team? — “Pay people million dollar contracts to put an idea into the hoop instead of a ball.”

Sometimes learning means “extra work” – but if people love where they work, they are interested in continuing to learn. Top companies create a business culture that values learning and where people want to be engaged.

Momentum Recap: Inclusion in our Classrooms

Last Thursday, Greenville Forward hosted February’s Momentum Series with a dynamic conversation about inclusion on our classrooms. The topic can be a bit confusing, but the overall goal of the conversation was to consider how our classrooms measure up to the goals set for them in Vision 2025. Specifically, Vision 2025 states, “In 2025 the proportion of minority educators in Greenville County mirrors the proportion of the minority population. All students and educators have access to multi-cultural experiences, foreign language instruction, and teacher and student international exchange programs including opportunities for students and teachers, Pre-K – 12, to interact with and learn from students and other instructors across the globe.”

To put this goal in layman’s terms, the Vision basically hopes for two kinds of inclusion, racial and international. So last Thursday, a group of educators, statisticians, community volunteers, nonprofit leaders, concerned businessmen and women, and experts on the topic gathered around a table to assess how Greenville is doing on these two major fronts.

Overall, the general consensus was that inclusion is difficult to define. For many, it is hard to even broach the subject when the biggest problem with many of the minorities in classroom is the extreme poverty and insufficient nutrition facing many of these students. How can you worry about students’ opportunities to interact with international cultures when you are more concerned with where they will sleep tonight and whether or not they will receive dinner?

There were many other important comments that I jotted down while listening to the conversation. I am providing them below to offer a sense of the conversation and the important points made by many of our participants.

“Berea High School is composed of 40% Hispanic students. It is hard to find native speakers to become faculty members.”

“The lack of Hispanic faculty is a cycle that must start in high school to inspire Hispanic students to go on to college.”

“Are we truly connecting potential Hispanic teachers with the need in the field of education for them to fill positions?”

“What kinds of field trips could we create to show students Hispanic culture in our community?”

“Is the school district communicating enough with parents and communities? Perhaps school principals could share with the communities around them the vast needs they have for some of their students for food, shelter, and safety.”

“There is often a disconnect between at-risk children and performance. Is Johnny reading at a lower level because Johnny is homeless?”

“Those that are on the ground need to continue to do the work they do and build relationships with one another to partner in overall goals.”

“Contact principals in your area to see how you can become involved with supporting their schools.”

### One of the main things I noticed as an observer is the recurring theme of the importance of communities supporting schools. It seems that if the communities surrounding schools offered support in the form of food donations, supporting nonprofits that work with the homeless, etc. only then can they begin to fully address inclusion in the classroom.


A Community Concern – Challenge Series in Review

Last Tuesday, Greenville Forward partnered with the Warehouse Theatre to present a documentary and discussion as part of the Challenge Series program. The featured film was “A Community Concern,” a film addressing three separate stories of communities working to challenge the broken educational systems in their towns. The three stories emphasized Oakland, Boston, and the Bronx.

As we were watching the film, I feverishly took notes about key elements that are worth sharing or quotes that had an impact, followed by a quick recap of our discussion. I am going to share them here but I do hope that you take the time to watch the film on your own at some point if you have the chance. I am fairly certain that you can get it on Netflix or we can loan you our copy. Overall, the key theme I noticed was that no matter how desperate, how devoid of funds, or how seemingly impossible the outlook is when trying to impart change, people are capable of making a difference when they work together toward a common goal.


In Oakland, we saw the role of community organizers filtering the angry, desperate, and passionate parents’ through a system of building relationships with one another so that their concerns became actual action steps.

They determined that failure had been the norm. And then decided that failure was unacceptable.

The community organizers worked to push the local school board to create more small, new schools to eliminate overcrowding and offer enriched educational experiences.

In the fall of 2001, five new schools opened.

The Bronx:

Several entities came together to create a better outlook for the youth in their community. “Ain’t no power like the power of youth cause the power of youth don’t stop” was a constant motto.

New York City has the nation’s largest school system.

Local volunteers and students were trained in community organizing and literally lobbied the Department of Education for a building for their new school, The Leadership Institute.

“Every child was born with the potential for greatness.”

The whole goal was to create relationships between the people in power and the people in need.

The School District Superintendent literally told the students that the Leadership Institute’s Building was “not a priority.”

The Leadership Institute does not get its own building but the school does go on.


The Boston Parent Organizing Network was founded to improve education for low income students.

The Boston community realized that the connection with the parents was absolutely crucial for success in a child’s education.

The school district event created a Vice Superintendent for Family Engagement position.

“Your child must know that you are supporting them.”

The district even offered an education fair where all schools were represented to show parents the options.

After-film Discussion: 

“In the amount of time that people could have done nothing, these people created schools.”

“Work together; do not begin by being argumentative and accusatory.”

“Someone was able to create a peaceful table where there was mutual respect.”

“Many parents are disenfranchised in our community and we must figure out ways to bring them back into the fold of the school.”

“Success is an approximation of justice. We are not going to get there all at once.”

“Why don’t we have a Superintendent of Family Services in Greenville?”

“We should focus on supporting communities where the schools are located.”

“Perhaps we could identify schools in our community that are struggling and adopt these communities like Leadership Greenville projects.”

“If the schools fail, then we fail as a community.”

Overall, the attendees at the Challenge Series felt that if Greenville were to pursue a similar track to improve our educational systems, we would need to better support the communities where our schools are located. In turn, the communities should support the schools. It is not just about the teachers and parents — anyone around a community can be part of the village raising our children.

(Stay tuned for the next Challenge Series event happening in March of 2012.)


Your Voice. Your Greenville. Join the Vision.

If you have been reading The Greenville News, attended our celebration, or have been keeping a pulse on Greenville Forward’s twitter feed, you have heard our big news. On September 15 ,we launched our inaugural membership program called: “Your Voice. Your Greenville. Join the Vision.” Since the big launch, we have been busy collecting memberships, writing editorials, and creating membership packets. And now we are taking the time to breathe a little and share some more about what this membership means.

After our launch celebration and release of the update of Vision 2025 at the Runway Cafe Hangar, we were on the front page of the Greenville News with a wonderful article by Liv Osby — “Focused ‘Vision’ Sees Clear Results.”  You can find a link to the article on our website,, if you missed it. We also were featured in a photo spread in City People, and finally yesterday through an op-ed written by Executive Director Russell Stall for the Greenville News that is pasted here below.

We share this news coverage with you because we want you to know that the work we are doing at Greenville Forward to facilitate Vision 2025 matters. It matters to our community, to our journalists, to our business leaders, to our government leaders, and to the people who have already chosen to join us by becoming members of Greenville Forward.

You can join for as little as $50 a year — or you can join as a family for $75. You can join at the Visionary level for $250 or more and you can join as a small business for $250. Or, you can join as a Visionary Corporation for $2500. Joining Greenville Forward means becoming a stakeholder in the future of this place we call home, and in the community we all love so deeply. You can sign up to join Greenville Forward by visiting our membership page:

Please take a moment to consider making a commitment to your future by becoming a member of Greenville Forward. Because it is YOUR Greenville, after all.

The time is nearing…

If you keep up with Greenville Forward’s activities, you know we have some exciting things happening and we are delighted to share with you our newest addition to our nonprofit NEXT THURSDAY night. We are in the final planning stages and all we need now is for the people to come and celebrate with us. Many of you have already signed up to attend, but we still hope to have more people join us as we take the next big step for Greenville Forward.

It is so exciting to share our news that we have been working on and mulling over for months and years, actually, and it is hard to believe the announcement is finally here. If you haven’t made plans to attend the celebration, you can easily do so here: The event is free and open to all so bring a friend who might not know about Greenville Forward and the work we are doing to make a difference and improve our community. Come out and support Greenville Forward — plus, it is sure to be a fun few hours at the Runway Cafe Hangar.



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